Ben Shaffer: Innovation Means Building a Safe Space for Failure

About this presentation

You can’t get to the really brilliant ideas without first building off of the really awful ones. In the Nike Kitchen, the shoe company’s innovation lab responsible for the genre-busting Nike Flyknit (as seen in the 2012 Olympics and 2014 World Cup), the company focuses on building a safe space for failure to help push the envelope and develop completely new products. “By having an area where we can incubate and build, and not necessarily always worry about what a failure it is, we understand that we can learn from it. It really allows us to amplify and create new seedlings, off which we can build more crops,” explains Shaffer.

But the most important part of innovating, says Shaffer, is including your user in the entire process: “For us, having that single focus, which is our athlete, and listening to and observing them from the beginning of a project all the way through to the end is extremely vital.”

About Ben Shaffer

Benjamin Shaffer is a designer/innovator who lives and works in Portland. As the designer and creative lead of Nike Flyknit he orchestrated the growth of a new paradigm shift in footwear manufacturing that was introduced in the 2012 Olympics on the feet of the some of the world’s fastest athletes. Then as a Studio Director, his passion for new materials and processes of making and a keen eye for aesthetic relevance positioned him nicely at the incubation of Nike’s future product within the Innovation Kitchen. He is now a designer at Apple.

In a journey that began 12 years ago with Nike, Shaffer has designed products from a variety of categories ranging from Yoga, Dance, and Running, as well as contributing to the conceptualization of Nike Plus. Six years in, he joined the Innovation Kitchen assisting the Women’s Training team with their Diamond Flex technologies, Free, and performance calibration as their Innovation Lead. From there he transitioned to be the Innovation Lead of Sportswear where he was charged with designing, developing, and introducing technologies such as Nike’s Hyperfuse into Sportswear.


Fast Company profile
Flyknit video

More insights on: Failure, Innovation
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  • jbhaber

    Vimeo (or whatever video player you’re using) doesn’t allow the viewer to replay a portion of the video, or to jump-forward for that matter. I want to go back and capture some of the quotes, but I can’t without watching the entire video again. Argh. Please find a different player.

    • Sasha

      Hmmm I’m having trouble recreating the problems you described on our end. Clicking forward you just have to wait for vimeo to load to that point, so that may be an internet lag on your end. What part of the video isn’t playing for you?

      • jbhaber

        Using Chrome, clicking anywhere forward in the video timeline does nothing.

      • Sasha

        No one else has reported this problem and it’s working just fine on every computer and browser we try. Sorry, I think this one is actually just your internet connection not loading the video fast enough!

  • David McGuigan

    None of the videos play in Chrome on Windows 8.1 FYI.

    • Sasha

      Thanks for the head’s up, David! We’re looking into it!

  • Jenn

    What a great talk.

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